FTX Northern California – ORBX – review (5*)

Northern California – the latest FTX region from ORBX. Good – as always. But how good exactly? My impressions and experiences with FTX NA NCA.

ftx-northern-california

Pros & Cons

What I like in FTX NA Northern California?

  • good image of the real world California
  • mesh
  • autogen
  • enhanced airports and airfields
  • bridges
  • hydro dams
  • wind farms
  • obstructions (antennae, smokestacks)
  • diversity (all climate zones are recreated)
  • availability of payware airports

What I do not like?

What can be improved?

  • some ground textures

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In short

I highly recommend this scenery!

FTX Norther California is, for me, the best regional scenery published by ORBX. It includes everything that I deem necessary in a good landclass-based scenery: detailed mesh, good textures that are placed correctly according to the type of terrain. Plus custom autogen and enhanced airports. And FTX NCA offers even more!

FTX NA Northern California – ORBX

Scenery coverage and features

Scenery covers northern part of California reaching Oregon (and FTX Pacific Northwest) in the north, Monterey, CA in the south and Nevada in the east.

It features:

  • ground textures from local sources
  • hand-placed landclass
  • autogen textures and objects
  • 3D night lighting effects
  • roads, rivers, lakes, powerlines
  • over 360 airports have been upgraded
  • models of eight major Bay bridges
  • more than 30 windfarms and many hydro dams
  • over 25 photoreal natural and urban areas
  • mesh (10m)

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Purchase, installation, manual

Purchase

Like all ORBX sceneries – you can buy FTX NCA in FlightSimStore. Product page redirects to FSS where FTX NA NCA costs 40,95 Australian Dollars (around 26-28 USD / EUR – at current rates – December 2015). It’s only available as a download product (installer is about 4GB in size), but you can order a backup DVD.

Installation

As always with ORBX products – you need the product key, order number and order date to run the installer. After installation go to ORBX website and download necessary service packs and current libraries.

Scenery needs to be activated in FTX Central.

Manual

Once again – “as in all ORBX products” the manual describes the scenery and suggests the best settings for several PC configurations (I run mine at higher settings than recommended). It also explains how to assure compatibility with other add-ons – especially with FlightBeam’s San Francisco Airport. Apart from that – there is a list of people involved in this project.

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Configurator (5*****)

There is a configuration tool. It’s necessary – Bay Area objects can kill even a good PC if it’s not configured properly. To me features like

  • marinas (docks and static boats) in Bay Area
  • and harbor objects (cranes, tanks, static vessels) in Oakland area

are unavailable. I had to turn them off (with some regrets). You will not see them on my screenshots.

There are some other options. I never felt the need to exclude any of the following features (this possibility may be helpful for users who have low-end PCs):

  • wind farms (larger impact – actually I did not see any negative impact of wind farms)
  • powerline towers (minor impact)
  • antennae, smokestacks, and other vertical obstructions (minor impact – who would want to remove these features?!)
  • marine navigation lights (minor impact – as a certified yacht skipper I do not even think about removing them!)

Apart from these features there is one additional option – you can remove ice covering lakes (in winter) – it may help Prepar3d users with “black blocky water” bug.

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First impressions (5*****)

I have already said that I consider Northern California to be the best ORBX area scenery. Let me expand this thought. After first flights my impression was that this is not a single scenery but there are three… at least. Southern part consists of deserts and semi-deserts. Southern coast enjoys Mediterranean-subtropical climate that turns into moderate as I move north towards Oregon.  In the east, there are mountains.

That is what struck me most. Let’s compare it with FTX Southern Alaska. It is more or less uniform from one end to the other. Even FTX Norway seems homogeneous compared to California. Here I can look around and I will have a general idea about where I am. It’s good.

I had never stayed in one area for a long time. In here – I can change the setting entirely just by flying 100 or 200 miles.

The North (5*****)

As far as my personal preference is concerned – it’s the least interesting area. Not that there is something wrong with it – it’s just quite similar (although better) to Pacific Northwest. I have flown there for years, so the border of California and Oregon could not keep me for long. This part is green and hilly and partly mountainous.

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Mountains (5*****)

It’s getting more interesting further inland. Mountain peaks reach nine or ten thousand feet. There are some glaciers here and snows covers mountain tops. As I moved south – an interesting combination of desert and rocky mountains appeared. It’s amazing how the mountains rise so high. They are steep and very prominent. If you enjoy mountain flying – deep valleys and canyons will draw you to this place for sure. I personally recommend Yosemite – it’s beautifully recreated in this scenery.

I could really feel the magnificence of this mountains.

Deserts (5*****)

The south. Actually only a smal part of Californian deserts is featured in this scenery. For the rest we have to wait until Southern California is published (soon – I am writing this in December 2015).

I have enjoyed flying over deserts. They are much better here than in FTX Global and there is no comparing with default FSX scenery.

FTX Northern California – navigation (5*****)

I enjoy ORBX’s area sceneries partly because I can navigate using towns, cities and terrain features as my waypoints. FTX NCA is no different from all other FTXs – navigation is easy and I do not have to wonder whether some town is missing or is displaced (like I would flying over default FSX scenery).

I have compared FTX NCA to the FTX Global + Vector set. These add-ons also improve FSX scenery in terms of navigation but there is a difference when FTX NCA was installed – it is much better.

Scenery objects and local photosceneries (5*****)

This scenery features many objects and 25+ local photosceneries. Hydro dams and wind farms are among my favorites. Especially the dams. They made huge impression on me and I really appreciate how the lake above and river below is always perfectly aligned with dam’s model. I suggest you take a slow plane or a helicopter to visit some of them (you can find such objects using Google Earth file that can be downloaded from ORBX’s NCA page).

As always (in ORBX area sceneries) I like the local photosceneries. They cover selected areas like mountain peaks and passes, several towns and cities (San Francisco for example) and interesting locations – like Sierra Army Depot where U.S. Army stores armored equipment.

I have to mention scenery objects in Bay Area. There are eight bridges there – all detailed and modeled to look like the real ones. I also found several stadiums and other city buildings that I knew were there.

There are also antennae and smokestacks placed all over the scenery. I think no other FTX scenery features so many of them and in no FTX scenery they were placed so well. Whenever sectional chart shows such an obstruction – there is a smokestack or a mast in the scenery. That is really impressive.

Autogen (5*****)

Another strong point. Cities are densely build. Buildings are well aligned to roads and the trees match shadows burned into the textures.

Is this a VFR oriented scenery?

Not at all! It’s equally good for VFR and IFR aviators although you will get the most of it flying low. But you will also enjoy it from high altitude as you will see correct landclass that solves the problem of repeating texture pattern.

Performance

It depends…

Over about 90% of the scenery – performance is perfect. Of course – such a detailed scenery may have some impact on your PC if compared to default FSX terrain but in all mid or high end PCs you should not suffer FPS drop below 30.

It’s different in Bay Area. The number of objects – buildings, hangars, ships, docks and vector elements (thousands of roads) will surely hit your PC. It depends on you (your configuration) whether your performance will be terrible, acceptably bad or just slightly lower than normally.

In my configuration (Normal or Dense autogen, hi-res textures, high-end add-on planes) I observed 18-20fps with some clouds on the sky an 20-24 when the skies were clear. If I enabled marinas and harbor objects it dropped to the range between 10-20 – it was unpleasant (unacceptable for me). For long flights involving detailed airport sceneries and VAS heavy aircraft I recommend lowering autogen level and lowering texture resolution to 2048 or even 1024 if you want to avoid OOM error (based on my PMDG 777 flights from KJFK to KSFO – I have payware sceneries for both airports).

As soon as I depart the Bay Area – my frames go up to 30 (my limit).

Summary

I highly recommend this scenery!

FTX Norther California is, for me, the best regional scenery published by ORBX. It includes everything that I deem necessary in a good landclass-based scenery: detailed mesh, good textures that are placed correctly according to the type of terrain. Plus custom autogen and enhanced airports. And FTX NCA offers even more!

Quality to price – very good

40 Australian Dollars (26-28 USD/EUR) is a good price for such scenery. Considering the amount of time I spent here – it’s a very good price.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
FTX Northern California - ORBX
Author Rating
5

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